Discover your free Construction Marketing Ideas Email Newsletter

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Construction marketing: When things go wrong, can things go right?

Some days are better than others. I'm writing this entry with half of my computer's screen obliterated by a crack (possibly caused by leaving the laptop in the cold, or because of a less-than-gentle drop). Earlier in the day, our bookkeeper discovered we had double-booked a major order, meaning we need to take a significant write-down -- at least the cost of the new computer I may need to purchase.

However, the largest problem occurred mid-day, when our wonderfully effective part-time employee dedicated to collecting old accounts asked me to speak with a client who had agreed to pay the bill, under duress.

On hearing the client'a story, Kathy asked if I would take the call. I did. And I quickly understood how a series of events led to a potentially brand-burning misunderstanding.

We earn a significant percentage of our print advertising revenue through special features and project profiles. Often the architects, owners and sometimes the general contractors support the initiative. Sub-trades and suppliers advertise because they want to associate with the successful project and sometimes because they believe they have a degree of obligation to keep their clients (the owner or general contractor) happy.

Some publishers abuse client/supplier relationship process in developing these features. They imply relationships which are not there, and play on the guilt and sense of obligation of subs and suppliers to purchase extremely overpriced and ineffective advertising.

This sort of unethical behaviour is not in our repertoire. We have a stringent no-pressure policy (a 'no' is really a 'no') and don't exaggerate relationships, while working with the clients to develop truly effective advertising.

But something went way off the rails in this case.

Our sales rep had indeed obtained the owner and architect's permission and support for the feature. The major general contractor for this project has a policy not to interfere nor support our features. In other words, the contractor won't bad-mouth us, but certainly would not want us to suggest any sort of endorsement. Nevertheless, the contractor makes available sub-trade information, allowing us to contact the various suppliers for the project. (This isn't a secret or specialized list as you could find the same information without explicit permission if you know where to look.)

The salesperson contacted the project's electrical contractor, and suggested a really good ad would involve a photo of the contractor's crew on the job site. The contractor agreed, and committed to a quarter-page ad.

The sales rep showed up with his camera on the appointed day, to find that he could not access the job site because of security clearance issues, and in fact, the photos could not be taken. The electrical contractor, to say the least, wasn't happy -- having spent money on special T-shirts for his crew.

I only found about the problem today, some three months after the incident. I asked the sales rep why I didn't know about this beforehand."The contractor signed off on the ad, and we ran the feature," the sales rep said.

I haven't received other client complaints about the sales rep's work -- and the idea of taking the photo of the electrical contractor's staff would have, if executed, indeed provided a worthy and useful advertising message (and morale boost for the contractor's employees).  So I can't get too mad at him.

I then reviewed the advertising proof sign off form. A good question is whether the photo incident happened before or after the sign-off. But wait . . . was there a sign off? It seems the contractor returned the form by fax (we have the fax identification information to prove that), with the "okay" box checked, but without a signature . . .

Without hesitation, I told the contractor that we would not expect the invoice to be paid. The issue isn't the possible loss of money -- the contractor would, in fact, have paid the bill -- but the loss of reputation. We do not want people to feel they've been misled or mistreated -- and the evidence here is strong enough to suggest that, even though we meant no harm, the client would have good reason to feel abused.

This isn't a great story to share. It doesn't reflect any miracles or inspirations. We probably could have handled the situation better from the start, and accepting a write-down because of a screw up is part of business.

Yet, in its simplicity, the story reflects how businesses survive difficult situations and preserve their brands and reputations. We cannot tolerate dissatisfied clients, so angry that they would use the word "scam" to describe our business. Nor should we panic and attack individuals within our businesses who, acting in good faith, are caught in awkward situations. The challenge here is to listen, respect, learn, and adapt the business model and go beyond paying lip-service to the words "customer satisfaction" to truly understanding our responsibilities when things don't go right.

So today, indeed, proved to be a bad day. I also think it has set the stage for excellent days ahead.

1 comment:

lylaburns123 said...

My husband works with construction in Palestine TX and ever since the turn of the economy business has been rough. We are determined to get their business doing better next year so we are starting to market it now. Thanks so much!